Supervisors opt out of marijuana sales; growing, processing allowed
Madison County supervisors on Monday voted not to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county on the eve of a Tuesday deadline but will allow growing.
Supervisors voted 3-2 to disallow dispensaries.
District 1 Supervisor Sheila Jones and District 2 Supervisor Trey Baxter voted to approve District 3 Supervisor Gerald Steen’s motion to opt out of dispensaries.
District 4 Supervisor Karl Banks and District 5 Supervisor Paul Griffin both voted against.
Supervisors did not take any action on other classifications in the new Mississippi medical marijuana law regarding cultivation, distribution, processing, research and development, or testing. Since no action was taken, the county automatically opted in to allowing for those marijuana operations.
Steen made the motion to opt out of dispensaries based on the uncertainty of zoning regulations and public safety.
Baxter asked planning and zoning officials how medical marijuana impacted the county’s control of dispensaries.
“Is the county properly set up for zoning for this facilities,” he asked. “Is it going to be the Wild West up here?”
Andy Clark, attorney for the county P&Z board, said there’s no reference to medical marijuana facilities in the current county ordinance.
“We have not made or proposed any changes in our ordinance,” he said. “Whatever we have in place now would be the only controlling authority we have.”
Supervisors were shown maps of parcels in the county that would currently allow for dispensaries.
Banks and Griffin argued the majority of the locations were in their districts. Their main opposition to opting out of dispensary was following the will of the people. In 2020, approximately 60 percent of Madison County voters who went to the polls voted in favor of Initiative 65, with approximately 34 percent voting against.
“Madison County overwhelmingly voted for (medical marijuana),” Banks said.
“The cities have already chosen to opt out and that’s fine — all except the City of Canton,” Griffin said. “So, the decision that we’ll be making opting out or stay in mostly affects District 4 and District 5. I just wanted to put that out there.”
Madison, Ridgeland, Flora and Gluckstadt have opted out of all the medical marijuana operations. They can all opt back in at some point in the future but there was no way to opt out. If no action was taken by May 3, governments would automatically be opted in.
Steen said despite the majority of voters supporting the issue, his concern also dealt with public safety. He said the biggest concern among law enforcement and other leaders was the uncertainty with dispensaries and how they would be regulated and operated.
Banks agreed with the public safety point, saying it could add layers of protection for the Sheriff’s Department to have to patrol.
“We have to make sure security is always available,” he said. “We have a very safe county now. That’s the only thing that will probably govern my vote in this motion is my concern for the public safety as it applies to the locations of where we’re talking about.”
Sheriff Randy Tucker said if he had his choice there would be no medical marijuana at all.
“What concerns me is the dispensary portion of the bill and how’s it going to be regulated,” he said. “There’s been no communication between local law enforcement and the Health Department. It’s good business for us to see what’s going to happen when we don’t necessarily have the zoning area in the county.”
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler even addressed the board, asking them to think about the municipalities in the county before voting.
“This is a troublesome decision in a lot of ways,” she said, noting bad track records in states that have legalized marijuana and the detrimental side effects associated. “We have the opportunity to opt out and let’s see, evaluate where we are and the impact it’s going to make on our quality of life. It’s not a do-or-die right now. It’s a do-or-die if we jump into something we can’t get out of.”
She added, “Whatever you do is going to affect our cities. Have a little grace about that — give us a little grace period in that.”